Why we’ve signed the Manifesto
"The University aims to play a positive role in society, and making an impact on local and global communities is a vital part of our strategy. We have a strong history of working with our partners and communities to promote innovation, creativity, enterprise and impact. We collaborate with other universities, the public, industry and third sectors to generate new knowledge and skills in both research and student education. We are also keen to play a full part in the development of the Leeds City region and the country as a whole by boosting our engagement with the North of England’s world-class cultural and business communities. Signing the Manifesto signals our support and recognition of the value and breadth of public engagement activity that goes on across all disciplines in the University. The co-developed institutional PE strategy challenges us to ensure that every research project includes an appropriate form of engagement, making engagement part of how we conduct our research. This contributes greatly to our aim of making a difference in the world."
Sir Alan Langlands, Vice-Chancellor
Our approach to public engagement
At Leeds we embrace public engagement because it is our social responsibility; we aim to increase the community’s trust in our research; we are accountable to the public as the funders of our research and we aspire to increase the relevance of our research in people’s lives. Our senior champion for public engagement DVC Professor Lisa Roberts promotes the engaged research cycle, making sure engagement happens at all stages of research.
Receipt of RCUK CSF funding has allowed us to establish a central PE team and embed public engagement further across the institution. The PE team co-developed the institutional public engagement strategy with the input from over 110 members of staff. The team support two networks – the PE practitioner network and the engagement champions’ network and together with academic champions run a year-long mentoring scheme for Engagement Fellows. We also run Be Curious, the annual research open day of the University, attracting a large audience onto campus. Bespoke one-to-one support and advice for research proposals and engagement activities complement opportunities for engagement with museums in the region and further afield. Academic staff at Leeds can use public engagement as part of their promotion application and can log their PE activities in a database that supports HESA relevant data collection as well as feeding through to a REF-supporting database, helping with possible impact case studies.
Our public engagement hallmark
Creating something in a less straight forward way may add to its beauty
We are particularly proud of our co-produced public engagement strategy, as it exemplifies the spirit and way of public engagement: in collaboration with others. Not only is the strategy, its vision and objectives sounder than had PE team written it alone, it also proves to be more accepted and hence easier to implement. Apart from gathering people’s views, we also saw the benefit of bringing people together who normally in their daily university-life would not meet or collaborate. The strategy workshops provided a platform to discuss a topic from different angles due to the mixture of people in the room. Several attendees mentioned that they enjoyed this exchange very much and found it stimulating to be asked to contribute. Our vision is: “By 2020 all research projects at the University of Leeds will include an appropriate engagement activity.” While being a strategic plan for PE, we are aware that PE is not the best possible form of engagement for every research project or for every person or discipline. That’s why opted for ‘appropriate engagement activity’, which can include public, business or policy engagement, e.g. What unites these activities is the underlying principle of a mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity.
Our public engagement talking point
Where do we see public engagement in the future?
We see public engagement becoming part of Engagement. Engagement that serves education, research, the university and its community. Across a university a number of units serve a particular aspect of engagement: school outreach, public engagement, patient involvement, alumni and philanthropy, life-long learning, business engagement and knowledge exchange, cultural engagement through museums, galleries and theatres, student and staff volunteering, massive on-line open courses and various specific partnerships. Collaborating across these teams has the potential to unleash new benefits and opportunities and anchor universities further into their communities. With stressed resources, collaboration will be a way to achieve more with less. At the same time it necessitates a mind set of respect, cooperation, communication, building trust and the belief that together we are better off than on our own.
Our public engagement people
We would like to nominate Dr Jonathan Barber, our colleague in Educational Engagement here at the University of Leeds. Jon looks after the school outreach in the STEM subjects, in Health Sciences and also manages the talent spotting programme. Before the University public engagement team existed he and his team were the closest thing to an institutional public engagement team; from their outreach work with schools it was only a little step to provide public events as part of the Leeds Festival of Science, which his team run and which had its 10th anniversary recently. Jon was a supporter and somewhat ‘instigator’ of getting a joined up approach for developing public engagement at Leeds. He was instrumental in connecting Charlotte Haigh and Alexa Ruppertsberg; he found resources to fund a small project which led to the founding of pepnet – the public engagement practitioner network – in 2013, which still exists today; the project report informed a meeting with our previous VC Michael Arthur and Paul Manners and led to the set up of a working group for PE by PVC David Hogg. When the opportunity for RCUK CSF funding arose, Charlotte’s and Alexa’s membership in the working group allowed them to take the lead on the proposal writing. The rest is history. We are indebted to Jon.
Dr Alexa Ruppertsberg, Head of Public Engagement with Research